response of the British and Irish governments to
the announcement by the PSNI boss, Mr Hugh Orde,
that the Provisional IRA was behind the robbery
of £26.5 million from the Northern Bank was
anger tempered by weary resignation.
that they had been misled by the leadership of Sinn
Féin pretending that it genuinely wanted
a conclusive deal with the Rev Ian Paisley's DUP;
resignation to the fact that in spite of everything
the peace process has them transfixed, like the
relationship between the moth and the flame.
know they will go back and, as surely, will be scorched
again. There is no avoiding it. They have succumbed
to an iron law of the peace process - that the process
must always undermine the peace.
world's greatest bank robbery came to the accompaniment
of the sanguine words of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern
that there was only 10 hours' work needed in order
to secure a deal that would see both an end to IRA
activity and the restoration of the North's power-sharing
hours from peace" is an accurate characterisation
if we are prepared to accept an hour this year followed
by another hour the year after, and so on. In between
those hours there can only be more of what we have
now - strategically induced crises.
crises are what maintain the peace in a state of
process rather than allowing it to come to fruition
as a solution. The Sinn Féin leadership,
playing by its own rules, benefits from the permanent
state of instability. Its primary strategic goal
is not an agreement in the North but expansionism,
North and South. The attainment of any deal in the
North is evaluated within this over-arching strategic
framework and never on its own merits.
Féin's ability to expand in the Republic
is primarily the result of the statesman-like profile
of its leader, Mr Gerry Adams. He is its most powerful
asset. What puts real wind in the sails of Mr Adams
and makes him different from leaders of other minority
parties in the Republic is the peace process.
accruing exposure has made him a celebrity politician
with an international reputation. At times opinion
polls indicate that he is the most popular political
leader on the island.
to maintaining that peace process as a "work
in progress", and consequently the profile
of Mr Adams, is the continued existence of the IRA.
With the IRA off the scene, the peace process comes
to the end of its shelf life and beds down as a
to be of benefit to Sinn Féin's strategic
designs the IRA has to do more than merely exist.
It must - employing plausible deniability - continue
to disturb the peace, upset the unionists, and allow
Sinn Féin to promote the need for a process
through which "peace" can be pursued against
the wishes of agenda-setting "securocrats and
however, Sinn Féin was serious about reaching
an accommodation with unionism based solely on conditions
in the North, it would not have allowed David Trimble
to go into the Assembly elections of 2003 without
a deal that he could sell to the unionist electorate.
Féin fully appreciated that the type of unionism
to emerge victorious the other side of that election
could only be one that would offer terms to it much
less generous than those offered by Mr Trimble.
This signalled the impossibility of Sinn Féin
ever reaching an accommodation with the DUP either
at the Leeds Castle talks last September or as a
result of the subsequent December negotiations.
the only deal acceptable to the DUP was one which
would bring the peace process to a conclusion. And
to conclude the peace process before the Republic's
electorate had been milked for all it was worth
never featured in Sinn Féin's intentions.
continuing to deposit the capital accrued from the
peace process in the hearts and minds of the Republic's
electorate the party's Dáil representation
may well double at the next election. The election
after that, possibly in 2010, may be an optimum
moment for Sinn Féin to trade in the IRA
in return for handsome electoral dividends. From
such a strong springboard base Mr Adams will be
poised to make a bid for the Republic's presidency
Sinn Féin member Mr Jim Gibney has argued
that the peace process has stood the IRA on its
head, evidence that the Sinn Féin leadership
is in total control. There was little in the way
of internal opposition. The organisation could quite
easily be put out to graze, but the time is not
yet right. Too large a hiatus between concluding
the peace and the 2011 presidential bid could seriously
arrest the forward momentum of the party.
commentators wail that the peace process has been
destroyed by the robbery, they miss the point. On
the contrary, it has been given even more life.
It will smoulder but will never be extinguished.
After the British general election, almost certain
to occur this year, the embers will be fanned, the
governments will proceed tentatively at first as
they try to bridge the gaps. Then they will move
to announce yet more ultimate deadlines, which will
be put back endlessly.
that point the peace process will be back to where
it was before the December heist. And banks will
continue to be robbed until Sinn Féin's ability
to expand is thwarted by such activity.
give up a winning formula?
Reprinted with permission of the author.